Bloomington, Ind. — Jordan Howard has quickly helped Indiana fans forget about Tevin Coleman.
The junior tailback transfer from UAB, who came into the game as the Big Ten’s leading rusher, ran for 203 yards Saturday to lead Indiana to a 38-35 victory over Western Kentucky before a crowd of 44,823 at Memorial Stadium.
When Coleman departed after last season for the NFL, Indiana fans were worried they would miss his production. Coleman was the nation’s second-leading rusher with 2,036 yards last year.
But Howard has simply picked up where Coleman left off. The 6-1, 230-pound power back has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of IU’s first three games and is a runner who appears to get stronger as the game wears on. Saturday, he ran for 155 yards in the second half, including 82 in the fourth quarter.
“I feel like as the game goes on I get stronger,” Howard said. “I guess the defense just gets tired of tackling me for the power I’m giving them.”
When Indiana got the ball back with 5:56 remaining and was clinging to a three-point lead, Howard helped run out the clock by carrying the ball seven times for 39 yards. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns, also had a big play in the drive when he hit senior Anthony Corsaro for a 20-yard completion to extend the drive.
“At the end, we knew they were tired, we knew we were going to keep pushing and we knew they weren’t going to stop us,” Howard said.
The win allowed Indiana (3-0) to open the season with three wins in a row for the first time in five seasons under head coach Kevin Wilson. The last time the Hoosiers opened the season 3-0 was 2010.
The loss snapped a seven-game Western Kentucky winning streak over the past two seasons.
Wilson said he really likes the way Howard has been running the football.
“I think he gets stronger, I think the offensive line is pretty good and I think the tight end group is pretty good, too,” Wilson said. “Those guys kind of wear on you a little bit and that’s good to see.”
Indiana was aided by some big plays on special teams, a goal line stand that stopped the Hilltoppers at the IU 1-yard line, two interceptions by freshman safety Jonathan Crawford and two touchdown drives of 99 and 97 yards. Mitchell Paige returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown in the first few minutes and Nick Mangieri blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter.
For the third time this season, Indiana trailed at halftime. It was the second time that the Hoosiers had trailed by 11 points at the break. Western Kentucky (2-1) had used two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes of the first half to take a 28-17 lead at the break.
But the trademark for Indiana this season has been big third-quarter performances. Saturday, IU scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter. The first two touchdowns were set up by interceptions from Crawford. Indiana has now outscored its first three opponents by a total of 44-0 in the third quarter.
“The first (interception) I thought we had a touchdown but we just kind of underthrew it and led it inside,” said Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm. “The second one we forced in there. Unfortunately for us we don’t have that margin of error.”
And IU continues to be opportunistic. In the last two games, five opponent turnovers have led to five Hoosier touchdowns.
Sudfeld, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns, threw a pair of TD passes for IU’s first two third-quarter scores. The first was a 36-yard touchdown toss to Paige and the other a 23-yard pass to Simmie Cobbs. IU tailback Devine Redding had a 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to cap the scoring.
Wilson opted to gamble with 10:15 to play in the game and Indiana with a fourth-and-4 situation at the Western Kentucky 13. Instead of taking a field goal that would potentially put IU up by 13, he had Sudfeld attempt a pass in the flat to Howard that went incomplete.
He said later he wanted his team to keep its foot on the gas and to go for touchdowns and not field goals.
Western Kentucky then marched 86 yards in 14 plays to get within three at 38-35.
Brandon Doughty completed 35 of 46 passes for 484 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for Western Kentucky. Tyler Higbee had 11 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown and Taywan Taylor had nine catches for 196 yards and a score.